Is PMS leaving you feeling down in the dumps?

Quite literally! Here we explore the link between PMS and mood



Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
@EmmaThornton
Ask Emma


14 September 2018

The effects of hormones on mood

It’s normal for our moods to be a little up and down each month – us women have got an excuse after all – hormones! As our hormones naturally drop off at the end of each month to give use our period, it’s natural to feel a little moodier, however if any changes in your mood start affecting your day to day life then it’s time to take action – we simply shouldn’t be putting up with this and we’re here to help! 

Now, firstly, let’s look at some of the effects our hormones can have on our mood and some of the different scenarios that can come about a little more closely:

The effects of oestrogen 

Oestrogen naturally drops off at the end of the month to give us our period. However, in some cases, an imbalance in oestrogen throughout the course of the month, can contribute to more erratic changes in our mood. 

In conditions such as PMS, the symptoms associated with them are often thought to come about as a result of an imbalance in oestrogen, and what we call oestrogen dominance. Higher levels in this hormone, relative to one of our other key sex hormones, called progesterone, can often give rise to more erratic changes in mood – so mood swings, anger or irritability can become common complaints for the women affected. That’s not to mention the physical symptoms which often go hand in hand with this picture which can include, heavier, more painful periods, which would get any women down naturally and may also be having more of an indirect impact on our mood. 

What can help? 

If you are struggling with crazy mood swings most likely at the hands of oestrogen, some Agnus castus could be the remedy for you. This is a traditional herbal remedy which can help to gently dampen the symptoms of PMS by tackling oestrogen dominance head on and gently stimulating production of the hormone progesterone instead. Progesterone acts as oestrogen’s natural opponent in the body and can often help to establish some balance once more!

The effects of progesterone

As well as oestrogen levels, progesterone levels also fluctuate throughout our monthly cycle. Progesterone is thought to be our ‘calming’ sex hormone (helping to keep oestrogen nicely in check for much of the time), but actually, if progesterone exerts too strong an effect, (relative to the hormone oestrogen that is), we can be left feeling more down in the dumps and low in self esteem instead which isn’t ideal. 

Common in menopause, but also in much younger women nowadays, this hormone imbalance shouldn’t be ignored and some gentle oestrogen support may be needed to help establish some balance again if you find you fit this bill. These low moods may go hand in hand with irregular periods or a lighter cycle, which can be common indicators. 

What can help? 

If progesterone dominance (also associated with low oestrogen) is likely to be contributing to your symptoms, in some cases supporting your oestrogen levels can help restore some balance to your cycle and mood. Soy isoflavones may do the trick and some support for a few months may be enough to help you get back on track!

The effects of nutrient status too 

Interestingly, it’s not just thought to be the effects of hormones that can influence our mood, but if we lack stores of certain essential nutrients, then this can have an impact too!  If your cycle is quite regular at around 28 days, yet you still tend to struggle in the premenstrual week, then my guess is that nutritional support is the way to go in terms of managing your symptoms. Although our hormones may be relatively in balance, with the natural drop off in our hormones that triggers our period, we really need optimal nutrient stores or we could end up still feeling a little ropey.

Some key nutrients are needed to help support our mood and here’s why:

  • Magnesium – Special glands in our body called our adrenal glands have an important part to play in managing our stress responses, as well as overseeing the production of other key hormones. In cases of high stress or anxiety, when our adrenal glands are under more pressure than normal, the balance of our sex hormones can eventually suffer. Magnesium helps support the proper functioning of or adrenal glands, and in turn is an important nutrient for supporting our mood hormones, and even our ability to sleep soundly
  • Zinc – The mineral zinc is important for supporting our digestion which in turn helps us to absorb lots of other vital nutrients from our food. These are the very nutrients we need to support our production of hormones, our cognitive functions mood and generally helping to keep everything ticking over nicely. As many of us know only too well, this is especially important when we have fluctuating hormones to contend with as well 
  • Chromium – Did you know that a diet higher in carbohydrates could be draining your stores of chromium? So depending on your diet, you could be at risk of depleted levels of this important nutrient! During our premenstrual week, limited chromium supplies can easily contribute to wobbly blood sugar and therefore, heightened symptoms of anxiety or even panic, so it’s another important nutrient to consider. 

Want to top up your levels? A multivitamin formula such as Magnesium OK can often help do the trick to get you back on track and support your mood.

A quick note on the effects of hormonal contraceptives

Is it true that your choice of hormonal contraceptive (be it the pill, implant or injection) could be having an impact on your mood? If so, what could potentially be going on here? 

Here are some important points from me which may help to explain a few things:

  • These are supplying hormones – hormonal contraceptives supply us with synthetic hormones – this is how they work. This can of course help to protect us from pregnancy, or they may help to correct a specific hormone imbalance (for example in the case of fibroids or PMS), but it could also affect our mood. Depending on the chosen method, they may supply a continuous supply of hormones (in the case of the combined pill or the implant) or we may experience a break in this supply of hormones, such as in the case of the combined pill. Over time, this dose of synthetic hormones may become too much and contribute to gradual changes in our mood, or in the case of the combined pill, we may find our symptoms crop up on our week off as we deal with more extreme fluctuations
  • The balance may not be quite right – as above, if you start to develop any noticeable symptoms over time, or at any point during the month, as you’ve been prescribed hormonal medication from the doctor, it’s best to refer back to them. Your doctor may be able to change the dose or the type of medication and this may work in a better balance for you – we’re all individual after all! 
  • Medication can drain our stores of nutrients – with any medication, including the contraceptive pill, your body needs to process it (mainly through the liver) and naturally it can drain our resources and stores of essential nutrients including magnesium and B vitamins. If you’re on any medication, my advice is to take a good dose of magnesium at least, alongside it – I often recommend a dose of around 200-400mg daily for over 18s.

Some all-round advice

If your experiencing monthly symptoms, it’s important to firstly consider what your hormones could be doing (don’t worry, we’re here to help if you aren’t quite sure) and some nutrient support is often helpful, as we explored above. However, regardless of what’s going on there, there are some simple practical tips that can make the world of difference:

Move more

Exercise has some all-round benefits. Firstly, it can help to support your mood regardless of what’s going on with your hormones. As you exercise you release feel good chemicals called endorphins which can help to make you feel more chilled. 

Next, longer-term, exercise can help support our sleep, protect against chronic stress (which can easily develop into anxiety or low mood over time) and a healthy weight; all of which can help to support your hormones more generally. Exercise really is a good all-rounder and moving even just a little more, more consistently, can help allow to you feel and look at your best.

Manage stress

Stress and our monthly cycle can have an interesting interaction. Firstly, stress can throw your hormones off in the first place, but actually, an imbalance in your hormones could mean you don’t handle stress as well as you’d have liked! Although determining the root of the cause is a good place to start when it comes to stress, employing some stress management techniques can often be helpful in any case. 

Exercise, as above, is a good place to start, as is learning some breathing techniques or simply learning when to take some time out for you, and do something you enjoy - whatever that may be!

Don’t forget about the impact of diet

What you eat is important too. Eating fresh will help supply you with essential nutrients to help better support your mood, but did you know that how you eat is important too? Skipping meals can affect your blood sugar levels more abruptly which will give rise to more cravings and can have a direct result on your mood as a result. 

In terms of specific foods to help support your mood: read one of my blogs on this topic for some helpful food picks.

Get enough sleep

The impact sleep can have on our mood is underrated – it’s super important! Getting enough sleep has an impact on your blood sugar levels, likelihood of cravings, mood swings, concentration levels and cognitive functions – and this is before sex hormones even get involved! Aim to go to the bed at the same time each night and get in a better routine if you’ll admit you’re a little all over the place in terms of your sleeping patterns. 

Employ herbs where necessary

As above, herbs such as Agnus castus or a source of soy isoflavones can help if your hormones need a little support, but sometimes, for whatever reason, our mood can just take a little knock and we need an extra helping hand! 

If this is the case, I often recommend a course of Hyperiforce. Made from fresh extracts of St. Johns Wort, Hyperiforce can help to support symptoms of low mood. Please note, St. John's Wort isn't suitable if you are on any medication from the doctor.

Agnus castus

50ml

£ 10.50

Buy now

Helps maintain normal healthy balance of female hormones in younger women.
More info

Hyperiforce® – St John's Wort for low mood

60 tabs

£ 11.99

Buy now

For low mood and anxiety. Made from freshly harvested herbs.
More info

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Here's what I recommend

As the A.Vogel Women's Health advisor, I recommend Agnus castus to help relieve symptoms such as menstrual cramps, breast tenderness and irritability.

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